The World Economic Forum today releases findings from its digital passport pilot project which indicate that a fully digital travel experience is possible. However, further collaboration is needed to progress towards globally accepted and verifiable digital travel credentials.
The Known Traveller Digital Identity (KTDI)initiative, which was started in 2018, has worked with the governments of Canada and the Netherlands plus private-sector partners to pilot digital travel credentials for paperless travel between two countries. Lessons from this pilot are particularly relevant today as COVID-19 has underscored the need for verifiable digital credentials in cross-border travel.
A new white paper, Accelerating the Transition to Digital Credentials for Travel, is the result of collaboration between the World Economic Forum, Accenture and industry and government partners. It draws on lessons from the KTDI pilot and is intended to serve as a playbook to guide decision making and help assess important considerations in the use of verifiable digital travel credentials across borders.
“Creating digital travel credentials that work across borders is not an issue of technology but an issue of governance,” said Lauren Uppink, Head of Aviation, Travel and Tourism, World Economic Forum. “The learnings from the Forum’s KTDI consortium demonstrates that while the technology for the next stage of digital-first travel is ready, thoughtful collective action is what truly enables the design and effective implementation of global governance structures, ensuring that digital travel credentials are easy to use, trustworthy and verifiable across borders.”
“The pandemic has highlighted the urgency for trusted, widely-accepted, privacy preserving digital travel credentials,” says Christine Leong, Global Lead for Blockchain Identity & Biometrics, Accenture. “Leveraging digital travel credentials would provide a much more secure way of sharing verifiable information, leading to greater assurance for travellers, shorter airport processing time, and greater efficiency for airline and border staff. To achieve this, governments and private sector organisations must collaborate to bring about a seamless, paperless and contactless travel continuum for all. The time to work together is now.”
Lessons from the KTDI pilot
The KTDI project established that two major, often misleadingly polarized, technology approaches to verifiable digital identities can work together. Working with governments and technology partners, the consortium found that public key infrastructure (PKI) and decentralized digital identity can co-exist and address the digitalization of various parts of a travel journey.
Furthermore, the pilot project found that these technologies can and must be integrated within existing systems to accelerate adoption and scale.
Interoperability and collaboration were other key areas for progress identified during the KTDI pilot. For paper passports, interoperability already exists as all participating member states agree to follow the specifications through the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)’s governance and trust frameworks.
Such an agreement for the specifications of digital travel credentials is not as widespread yet, but the adoption of traditional passport specifications shows that the benefits of using digital credentials in travel cannot be realized through isolated or one-off approaches.
The KTDI project
The first cross-border pilot for digital travel identification, the Known Traveller Digital Identity (KTDI) project, has been piloted with government partners from Canada and the Netherlands, along with a consortium of technology, private sector and other partners. The KTDI partners have designed and built the first government-led, public-private ecosystem to test the vision of safe and seamless cross-border travel. This vision aimed to reduce touchpoints by using emerging technologies, including biometrics and decentralized identity, and inform the future development of a globally accepted decentralized identity ecosystem.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic has affected KTDI pilot efforts, it has also created an opportunity to further analyse how decentralized digital identity and PKI-based approaches could work together or work in sync. Although the initial pilot employed a decentralized identity approach to trial trusted digital credentials, KTDI could in the future expand to incorporate additional verifiable credentials such as COVID-19 vaccination certificates, as well as PKI-based digital credentials.
The consortium’s achievements and expertise can serve as a valuable blueprint to inform other similar efforts being pursued globally.